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The beauty of tactics: When to work

The young Italian Filippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo) scored a great win in the 204.5km stage 7 from Chateaubriant to St-Brieuc. He rode hard, but more importantly, he rode smart, applying his energy just when it was necessary. The race was thrown into a bit of disarray when the peloton was split in two with 45km to go. While all of the general-classification leaders were at the front when the split happened, it probably had an unsettling effect on the riders left behind. The group finally came back together on the outskirts of St-Brieuc. That was a perfect setup for the final attacks,

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By Thomas Prehn

The young Italian Filippo Pozzato (Fassa Bortolo) scored a great win in the 204.5km stage 7 from Chateaubriant to St-Brieuc. He rode hard, but more importantly, he rode smart, applying his energy just when it was necessary.

The race was thrown into a bit of disarray when the peloton was split in two with 45km to go. While all of the general-classification leaders were at the front when the split happened, it probably had an unsettling effect on the riders left behind. The group finally came back together on the outskirts of St-Brieuc. That was a perfect setup for the final attacks, including the successful move by Pozzato.

In the final run into the finish there was a flurry of attacks, and with 5km to go a group of six riders managed go get a slight gap over the peloton. This group – Flores, Paolo Bettini (Quick Step-Davitamon), Laurent Brochard (Ag2R Prevoyance) Francisco Mancebo (Illes Balears), Iker Flores (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Michele Scarponi (Domina Vacanze) had to work extremely hard to maintain any gap at all; for a kilometer and a half, their lead never topped 10 seconds.

The chasers were probably still keen on gobbling them up and turning the finale into a field sprint. And among the leaders there must have been a lot of doubt about whether they could hold off the pursuit. They all seemed committed to making the effort work, but no one wanted to be simply setting someone else up for the stage win.

You have to think about the psychology when you consider the tactics. How much should you work for the group, and how sparing must you be with your energy? When do you slip into the rapidly rotating echelon to take another pull because one of your breakaway companions let a gap open? Did that gap open because he’s too tired at the moment, or because he’s preparing to attack the break?

At 2.5km to go, Brochard did just that, attacking the group up the right side of the roadway, and any further pretense of working together went right out the window. The attack strung the leaders out into a pursuit led by Bettini that upped the speed slightly and even increased the break’s margin over the chasers.

As the lead riders started to come together, Flores counterattacked 2km from the finish. Mancebo took up the chase, followed by Pozzato, and Mancebo committed himself to drive the rest of the way to the finish line. Each of these attacks and counters keeps the pace high and the gap constant to the peloton behind.

Through all of this you can see Pozzato eyeing each move in front of him, occasionally glancing back at the riders just dropped and the charging peloton behind. The crafty young Italian strove to follow every wheel he could to get a draft while keeping one eye peeled for a counter that might spoil a victory. From the first attack by Brochard to his final sprint, he only worked when he had to. He played the game perfectly and took his first of what could be many victories for the first-time Tour rider.

In the closing kilometers of a race like this, there is a lot of confusion, attacks, counterattacks and chases. Filippo Pozzato played it cool, calm and collected to win the day.


Thomas Prehn is a former USPRO champion and author of the recentlyreleased “RacingTactics for Cyclists,” now available through VeloPress. If you have questions about tactics employed during a particularstage at the Tour de France, send a note to WebLetters@InsideInc.comWe will try to answer a selection of questions on a regular basis duringthe Tour.